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Othniel, Achsah, Rahab, Moses, Miriam

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Caleb, sometimes transliterated as Kaleb (כָּלֵב‎, Kalev; Tiberian vocalization: Kālēḇ; Hebrew Academy: Kalev), is a figure who appears in the Hebrew Bible as a representative of the Tribe of Judah during the Israelites' journey to the Promised Land. A reference to him may also be found in the Quran, although his name is not mentioned.


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According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, "since "Caleb" signifies dog, it has been thought that the dog was the totem of [Caleb's] clan". Strong's Concordance states that "Caleb" is "perhaps a form of keleb (Hebrew: כָּ֫לֶב‎‎), meaning "dog", or else from the same root in the sense of "forcible", whereas the New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance states that keleb is of "uncertain derivation". It should be noted that the Bible was written down centuries before Hebrew diacritics were introduced, and there is no certain knowledge of how the name was pronounced during the man's own lifetime.

The original Hebrew name is pronounced /ˈkɑːlɛb/ or /ˈkɑːlɛv/; the modern English pronunciation /ˈkləb/ is courtesy of the Great Vowel Shift.

Caleb happens to be a very influential character to the occurrence of Israel's 40 years in the desert before entering the Promised Land.

Biblical account

(1) "Caleb the Son of Jephunneh" was one of the twelve spies sent by Moses into Canaan, as reported in Numbers Chapter 13:3:

"And Moses by the commandment of the LORD sent them from the wilderness of Paran: all those men were heads of the children of Israel."

Their task, over a period of 40 days, was to explore the Negev and surrounding area, and to make an assessment of the geographical features of the land, the strength and numbers of the population, the agricultural potential and actual performance of the land, civic organization (whether their cities were like camps or strongholds), and forestry conditions. Moses also asked them to be positive in their outlook and to return with samples of local produce.

In the Numbers 13 listing of the heads of each tribe, verse 6 reads "Of the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh." Caleb's report balanced the appeal of the land and its fruits with the challenge of making a conquest.

In verse 30 of chapter 13 it reads "And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it." Caleb and Joshua said the people should trust God and go into the land, the other ten spies, being fearful and rebellious, argued that conquering the land was impossible.

(2) "Caleb, the son of Hezron", grandson of Pharez and great grandson of Judah, 1 Chronicles 2:18. The Talmud says this is the same man as Caleb the spy. Caleb in 1 Chronicles is an Israelite by lineage, which (if the Kenizzite hypothesis holds) would make it implausible that he and the other Caleb are the same person.

The Kenizzite hypothesis

Caleb, son of Jephunneh, first mentioned in the above account (Numbers 13:6) is not to be confused with Caleb, great-grandson of Judah through Tamar (1 Chronicles 2:3-9). This other Caleb was the son of Hezron, and his wife was Azubah (I Chronicles 2:18,19).

Caleb the spy is the son of Jephunneh. Jephunneh is called a Kenizzite (Numbers 32:12, Joshua 14:6,14). The Kenizzites are listed (Genesis 15:19) as one of the nations who lived in the land of Canaan, at the time that God covenanted with Abram (Abraham) to give that land to his descendants forever (Genesis 17:8). However, Caleb is mentioned among the descendants of Judah recorded in 1 Chronicles 4: "And the sons of Caleb the son of Jephunneh; Iru, Elah, and Naam: and the sons of Elah, even Kenaz (1 Chronicles 4:15). Thus Caleb seems to have been recognized as a leader of the tribe of Judah.

There were provisions for a Gentile to be included in Israel as were clearly spelt out in the regulations for Passover (Exodus 12: 48,49). In this Exodus passage it is written: "If an alien who resides with you wants to observe the Passover to the Lord, every male in his household must be circumcised, and then he may come near to observe it. He is to be like a native of the land, but no uncircumcised person is to eat it. A single law exists for the native and the alien who resides among you." (Exodus 12:48,49 ISV) Some consider Kenizzites as an Edomite tribe, in which case Caleb would be a descendent of Jacob´s brother Esau.

But many view Caleb as a true Israelite by birth, since he is associated with and represented the tribe of Judah as one of the 12 spies. Jephunneh could have descended from some member of the non-Israelite Kenizzites (Ge 15:18, 19) who associated with the descendants of Jacob (Israel), marrying an Israelite wife. Perhaps the name Kenizzite in his case derives from some ancestral Judean family head named Kenaz, even as Caleb’s brother was so named (Joshua 15:17; Judges 1:13; 1 Chronicles 4:13).

About Caleb

A Midrash refers to Caleb being devoted to the Lord and to Moses, splitting from the other scouts to tour Hebron on his own and visit the graves of the Patriarchs.

In the aftermath of the conquest, Caleb asks Joshua to give him a mountain in property within the land of Judah, and Joshua blesses him as a sign of God's blessing and approval, giving him Hebron (Joshua 14). Since Hebron itself was one of the Cities of Refuge to be ruled by the Levites, it is later explained that Caleb actually was given the outskirts (Joshua 21:11-13). Caleb promised his daughter Achsah in marriage to him who will conquer the land of Debir from the giants. This was eventually accomplished by Othniel Ben Kenaz, Caleb's nephew (Judges 1:13), who became Caleb's son-in-law as well (Joshua 15:16,17).

1 Samuel 25:3 states that Nabal, the husband of Abigail before David, was "of the house of Caleb". It is not stated whether this refers to one of the Calebs mentioned in the Bible, or another person bearing the same name.

Quranic account

Caleb is alluded to in the 5th Surah of the Quran (5:20-26). The two men alluded to here are Caleb and Joshua:

"Remember Moses said to his people: "O my people! Call in remembrance the favour of The Lord unto you, when He produced prophets among you, made you kings, and gave you what He had not given to any other among the peoples. "O my people! Enter the holy land which Allah hath assigned unto you, and turn not back ignominiously, for then will ye be overthrown, to your own ruin."

They said: "O Moses! In this land are a people of exceeding strength: Never shall we enter it until they leave it: if (once) they leave, then shall we enter."

(But) among (their) God-fearing men were two on whom The Lord had bestowed His grace: They said: "Assault them at the (proper) Gate: when once ye are in, victory will be yours; But on Allah put your trust if ye have faith."

They said: "O Moses! while they remain there, never shall we be able to enter, to the end of time. Go thou, and thy Lord, and fight ye two, while we sit here (and watch)."

He said: "O my Lord! I have power only over myself and my brother: so separate us from this rebellious people!"

The Lord said: "Therefore will the land be out of their reach for forty years: In distraction will they wander through the land: But sorrow thou not over these rebellious people."


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